Picture of                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     James Robson

James Robson PhD Assistant Professor in Human Dimensions of Sustainability, School of Environment and Sustainability

Room 336, Kirk Hall

Research Area(s)

  • Environmental governance through collective action
  • Tracking and explaining change in commons regimes
  • The migration-environment-development nexus
  • Local approaches to biodiversity conservation


I'm always keen to hear from students interested in issues related to local forms of environmental governance (practice, knowledge, institutions), and committed to the principles of community engagement. I have potential opportunities for students (Master’s or PhD), especially those with Spanish-language skills, to work on two planned research projects (2018-2022):

Engaging Indigenous Youth through Innovative Environmental Co-Governance Arrangements

Working with select Indigenous communities in Canada and Mexico where we have on-going relationships, we will address the question: How can governance for sustainability and biocultural diversity effectively engage young Indigenous women and men and strengthen community capacities for long-term land and resource stewardship?  The proposed research will (a) examine how local people understand the social, cultural and demographic drivers that shape environmental governance institutions and processes; and (b) select and assess institutional innovations to better engage young women and men in these arrangements.

Strategies for Building Inclusivity in Mexican Forest Commons

Using a participatory, action-oriented methodology, and working with two community partners in Oaxaca, Mexico, the proposed research will: (i) explore how forest governance and forest work is currently structured, and will do so from the perspectives of community members underrepresented in these arrangements (youth, women, non-rights holders); (ii) consider institutional and organizational innovations with the potential to deliver more inclusive, vibrant and productive forest commons; and, (iii) create spaces for partner communities to learn from each other’s experiences, and for practitioner organizations to consider the wider applicability of the research for other forest-dependent communities. 

Academic Credentials

  • Doctor of Philosophy in Natural Resources and Environmental Management. University of Manitoba
  • Master of Arts in Environment, Development, and Policy (Distinction). University of Sussex
  • Bachelor of Science in Geography (Honours). University of Liverpool

Research Profile

My substantive area of expertise lies in interdisciplinary and applied environmental research, with special emphasis on the drivers, and impacts, of demographic, social, and environmental change as they affect rural and remote communities. It is research firmly couched in the ideals of community engagement and participation. My goal is to move knowledge into the arenas of practice and policy, where it can be of specific value in supporting partner communities.

My work takes place predominantly in Mexico, Latin America, and Canada (although I’m interested in the above themes no matter where they might unfold). I work in regions where a strong interdependency exists between biological and cultural diversity.

I’m particularly interested to learn about community responses to globalized change (the entanglement of global environmental change, economic and cultural globalization, colonial histories, neoliberal policies). This includes community efforts to adapt and innovate customary systems of governance and resource use.


Current Research

  • The Future of Forest Work and Communities (SSHRC Connection Grant, Applicant) (2017-2018)
  • Ethnobiology Design and Food System Innovation in Bolivia and Canada (SSHRC Insight Grant, Co-Applicant)
  • The Role of Stakeholder and Public Participation in Collaborative Forest Governance in Canada: Contributing to Theory and Practice through Comparative Study (SSHRC Insight Grant, Collaborator)
A short video of Future of Forest Work youth visioning workshop held in Bolivia in August 2017.

News and Media

Selected Publications

Robson, J.P. (In Press)  Indigenous communities, migrant organisations, and the ephemeral nature of translocality. Latin American Research Review.

Robson, J.P., Klooster, D.J., Worthen, H., and Hernandez-Diaz, J.  2017.  Migration and agrarian transformation in Indigenous Mexico.  Journal of Agrarian Change, first online: 125. https://doi.org/10.1111/joac.12224

Boillat, S., Scarpa,F.M., Robson, J.P., Gasparri, I., Aide, A.T.M., Aquiar A.P.D., Anderson, L.O., Batistella, M., Fonseca, M.G., Futemma, C., Grau, H.R., Mathez-Stiefel, S.-L., Metzger, J.P., Ometto, J.P.H.B., Pedlowski, M.A., Perz, S.G., Robiglio, V., Soler, L., Vieira, I., and Brondizio, E.S.  2017.  Land system science in Latin America: Challenges and Perspectives. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 26-27: 37-46.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cosust.2017.01.015 

Lira, M., Robson, J.P., and Klooster, D.  2016.  Can indigenous transborder migrants affect environmental governance in their communities of origin? Evidence from Mexico. Population and Environment, 37(4): 464-478.  https://doi.org/10.1007/s11111-015-0247-2

Robson, J.P., Sinclair, A.J., and Diduck, A.  2015.  A study of institutional origins and change in a Canadian urban commons. International Journal of the Commons, 9(2): 698-719.  http://doi.org/10.18352/ijc.548

Robson, J.P. and Wiest, R.  2014.  Transnational migration, customary governance and the future of community: A case study from Oaxaca, Mexico.  Latin American Perspectives, 41(3): 103-117.  https://doi.org/10.1177/0094582X13506689

Robson, J.P., Sinclair, A.J., Davidson-Hunt, I.J., and Diduck, A.  2013.  What’s in a name: The search for common ground in Kenora, northwestern Ontario. Journal of Public Deliberation 9(2): Article 7. 

Robson, J.P and Lichtenstein, G.  2013.  Current trends in Latin American commons research.  Journal of Latin American Geography, 12(1): 5-33.  https://doi.org/10.1353/lag.2013.0001

Davidson-Hunt, I.J., Turner, K.L., Te Pareake Mead, A., Cabrera-Lopez, J., Bolton, R., Idrobo, C.J., Miretski, I., Morrison, A., and Robson, J.P.  2012.  Biocultural design: A new conceptual framework for sustainable development in rural indigenous and local communities. Surveys and Perspectives Integrating Environment and Society, 5(2): 33-45.  http://sapiens.revues.org/1382

Courses Taught

  • ENVS 803 – Research in Environment & Sustainability 
  • ENVS 808 – Tools and Applications for Sustainability Problem-Solving